God loves everybody and seeks the highest good for all, yet He also warns of serious consequences for failing to live up to our responsibilities. I can understand consequences, but why must there be an eternal lake of “fire and sulfur” at history’s end?
Believing in a judgmental God can be dangerous. Assuming that God demands an ethic of retribution not only gives a penal flavor to our theology but also encourages zealous violent retribution by cultivating its justification.
Tucked away in an obscure collection of texts in 2 Samuel 21 is a story occasionally cited to suggest that God’s avenging anger needs appeasement. Nestled within this depiction of atonement is the ancient notion of bloodguilt, while a lesser known story is easily overlooked, lacking the attention it deserves. It tells of a woman burdened with grief and searing pain because her two sons have been torn from her. Rizpah is her name. The story has not gone unnoticed, however, by many a brave mother gripped by despair and grief at the death of a child. Such women, left powerless and bereft, receive little mercy.
The wrath of God is a nuanced and difficult concept to understand, but as the Apostle Paul states, “All things become visible when they are exposed by the light” (Ephesians 5:13, NASB).
God’s anger is His love directed against whatever exploits and abuses people and the earth. That’s good news as far as it goes, but what about the wrath unleashed as retribution against people in the Old Testament?